Bioethics: Guarded haste Vs. unfettered indiscretion.
Mrs Halisa Sani,
Lecturer, Department of Chemistry,
Sa'adatu Rimi College of Education,
Nature in its grueling experimentations of over 10 billion years since the big bang, has achieved tremendous results. These were experiments not guided by fame, greed or prize, and in which it was un-hurried by any supervising authority, rival researchers or encumbered by datelines. It had all it’s time and contemplated most of its options. The ultimate result of it all is the current human form and mind, irrespective of their imperfections and shortcomings.
It is also true that human valor and endeavors have, over the years, unchained man from nature’s shackles and artificial impediments. As Einstein said: “It stands to the everlasting credit of science, that by acting on human mind, it has overcome man’s insecurity before himself and before nature”. The artificial impediments are those of pessimism, unwarranted and far-fetched restrain of endeavors in attempts at breaking the manacles inherent to human existence.
The progressive understanding of the intricacies of nature, the appreciation of its pliability, and the increasing jettisoning of superstitious believes, are some of the most important progresses made in our interactions with nature. It is to the credit of science and human mind, that the first Malthusian doom was averted. Science still seems set to avert the impending second doom of diseases and deprivation. The opulent segment of us may openly loathe genetically modified (GM) food. So can a president of a famishing country reject food aid, if it is GM. But to the starving many, the sage counsel: “a rich man should eat whenever he is hungry, and the poor man whenever he can” is apt. To the malnourished children that are common sight in poor countries, and brought to the occasional attention of the rest of the world by the media, there can be no greater fear and misery than the impending doom of death from complications of malnutrition. This calamity has within it barbarous tentacles as much as 40 % of children in tropical and developing countries, which are typically the most populous, thus representing one-third of world’s children, and contributing an estimated 60% of all childhood deaths . This is the grim reality about the situation of the future of our world and destiny: our children. Whatever long term fears we may entertain, can only be meaningful when they are balanced against these immediate gloomy realities.
And to the genetically un-encumbered, the academic debate of desirability or ethical appropriateness of gene therapy can be an interesting mental exercise. But to the millions with genetic imperfections and living in daily misery, these therapies are long overdue! Imagine the life of us patients suffering from the world’s commonest genetic disorder, sickle cell disease: childhood substituted by agony, hope replaced by apprehension, and daily living equated to daily misery! If we or their loved ones are granted a single wish, we will surely ask for a single nucleic acid substitution- a wish which is not beyond the reach of science. It is heartening to know that gene therapy has good prospect of providing an effective cure for this blood disease, and that scientist are working very hard to make this a reality . Biotechnology equally holds hope for other chronic debilitating diseases like cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s disease and primary immunodeficiency disorders.
Medical Science, has in tandem with nature, reduced the disorderly pattern of death from diseases, for example, the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming and its subsequent refinement for clinical use in the first half of the last century, has along with our immune system, saw to the conquest of many infectious afflictions. This is a good example of science and nature’s success in a collaborative endeavor. To the victims of major organ failures living on the brink of death, stem cell therapy spell the safest route to cure, and no means to a prospect for new life will be considered unjustifiable. Their first “ethical consideration” in these circumstances is understandably survival. When safe from the brinks, patients with any of these diseases will still need nature as they needed it when they were on therapy, as they needed it prior to their ill-health, and as we all need it in our current wholesome states.
We sure all adore nature: there are few of us who have not received or issued the admonition “be natural, be yourself!” This counsel by its essence implies the green and the conservative nature in all of us. But not even the die-hard naturalist can survive on the naturally endowed human speed of less than two miles per hour in the present supersonic age. Who still hear about the fear of some leading scientist at the beginning of development of locomotives, that a speed of more than 11 miles per hour will lead to death from asphyxiation? We all make do, and conveniently so, with one form or the other of modern means of transportation, whatever our views are about the consequences.
The propensity of human nature to aim at maximum individual advantage, even to the detriment of the greater humanity and future generations, informed some of the most stringent criticism against the application of science in the modification of natural processes. The appearance of mushroom clouds over densely populated cities sent men scampering back to their shared vulnerability and humanity, just a little while after the relief brought by end of the Second World War. The horror was “this can occur over any city!” This despair is still palpable in our age of terrorism and uncertainties. The Chernobyl disaster brought to the fore the fact that this catastrophes can occur even when unplanned.Exploitation of other sources of energy has also been attended by damage to the natural environments. But will these be enough to send man back to the horse-pulled carts? As these accidents occur, the worry should be more on how to clear the mess, how to restore the damaged, how to prevent future recurrence and what lessons need be learned from them. This should represent the forward march of humanity. But when every disaster send us back with scamper, lessons unlearned and developmental steps not built upon, our progress will then be permanently hampered.
Nature retains the acclaim of providing the initial raw materials and “soft wares” of human mind. This amply merits recognition and consideration in all subsequent human contemplation. But our restrain should never be oblivious of the need for human progress, the dangers of stagnation and the supremacy of intelligent experimentation to over-cautious stillness. Nature often needs man’s effort before it gives him what he wants. And it has often been posited that, nature at its level of a grand master, makes its errand boys do its works, while it savors the glory of its achievements and tidy up its ledgers. Francois Rabelais was equally disposed in this regard: “when nature has work to be done, she creates a genius to do it!” Those with the most zeal and enthusiasm among the proponents of freer experimentation, often say and, with justifications, that nature is employing man as a tool of hastening the course of history and natural processes, and as a catalyst to destiny.
Human preparations are only cognizant of life intricacies up to our current stage, and are yet not all encompassing of current problems. And nature still hurls at us the unexpected: diseases, climatic catastrophes and blazing meteorites and asteroids. If we over caution ourselves to inaction and stillness, we cannot be prepared for eventualities, and will at the time of our desperation be caught most unwary. Human destiny and hope lies in a guarded haste, not unfettered indiscretion or slovenly cowardice.